CHAPEL HILL, NC – Eleni Paliouras, a longtime subscriber to The National Herald and co-editor of The Grecian Plate cookbook, shared her recipe for Tsourekia, the braided holiday bread that can be enjoyed for any occasion.
6 pkgs. active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
2 cups milk
4 cups sugar
1.5 teaspoons mastiha, finely ground
40 seeds mahlepi, finely ground
2 pounds butter, room temperature
7-8 pounds bread flour (28 to 32 cups)
18 eggs, room temperature, well beaten
Dissolve yeast in water; let stand covered 10 minutes. Heat milk and sugar until sugar dissolves. Cool to lukewarm; stir in mastiha and mahlepi. (Grind spices together with mortar and pestle). Partially melt the softened butter in a separate saucepan or place 30 seconds in microwave on full power. In a very large mixing bowl, place 5 pounds of flour. Make well in center; pour in yeast liquid. Knead briefly. Gradually add butter, milk mixture and eggs alternately with the remaining flour, kneading thoroughly after each addition. Knead for 10 minutes or till dough is smooth and elastic and comes cleanly away from sides of bowl. Cover with cloth; place in a warm place to rise for 3.5 hours or till double in bulk.
Punch down, cover and let dough rest for 10 minutes. Pinch off 3 balls of dough, about the size of a large orange. Roll each ball into a long smooth rope about 10 inches. Place ropes one inch apart, press together at one end, leaving middle braid on top.
Braid loosely, press together at the end and tuck under. Place loaves in greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pans, cover and let rise again for 2 hours. Brush tops gently with one egg yolk beaten with one tablespoon milk. Sprinkle generously with sesame seeds. Bake at 325 degrees about 30 minutes or till nicely browned. Freezes well. Makes 10-12 loaves.